Review - THE TAINTED TRIAL OF FARAH JAMA, Julie Szego
"How did a young Somali man end up in goal for the rape of a woman he had never met, in an over-28s nightclub he was too young to be admitted to, in a Melbourne suburb he had never visited?"
THE TAINTED TRIAL OF FARAH JAMA starts out asking this question, and is never able to provide anything like a satisfactory explanation. Which is a very serious wake-up call for the justice system, and for the community it serves.
In the reality of the media landscape these days, this sort of investigative journalism is more likely to be supported by books than newspapers. Having said that, how you would do a story of this sensitivity and magnitude in sufficient detail in anything shorter than a book is questionable. You can't help but hope, however, that THE TAINTED TRIAL OF FARAH JAMA gets a wide circulation amongst a population that sometimes seems inclined to think that the presumption of innocence is an unnecessary complication in the criminal system.
Julie Szego is both a journalist and a former lawyer and her viewpoint of both the trial, and the after affects on the people involved, as well as on the system of justice is particularly useful. THE TAINTED TRIAL OF FARAH JAMA isn't, however, a book about Szego, although the difficulties she experienced in gaining any co-operation for Jama are explored fully.
Through Szego's writing some of the complexities of the Somali refugee community becomes clearer. The behaviour of Jama after the trial, and in relation to this book's writing was complicated, although very understandable. This is not an overtly sympathetic or cherry-coated portrayal of Jama though - which makes the idea that our justice system not be presumptive even more stark. It also clearly demonstrates that exhaustive investigation of all possible alternatives when looking at anybody's possible guilt or innocence is vital.
Whilst procedural science might sometimes be prone to human error, in the case of THE TAINTED TRIAL OF FARAH JAMA, what's most starkly obvious is that one evidential justification in a case that takes away anybody's liberty is not a case to take to court. Beyond reasonable doubt has to hold sway.
If there is one little niggle about THE TAINTED TRIAL OF FARAH JAMA it's probably that there did seem to be some over concentration of what the victim was (or more importantly wasn't) wearing on the night. Regardless, you can't read this book without feeling incredibly sorry for the woman at the centre of this case, as you do for a young man who seemingly was convicted before he walked into the court.
On 21st July 2008, 21-year-old Somali, Farah Jama was sentenced to six years behind bars for the rape of a middle-aged woman as she lay unconscious in a Melbourne nightclub.
Throughout the trial Jama had maintained his innocence against the accusations he committed such a predatory, heinous crime.
But the Prosecution had one ‘rock solid’ piece of evidence that nailed the accused-his DNA.
Nearly 18 months after Jama’s incarceration, his conviction was overturned when a mother’s profound faith in her son’s innocence, a prosecutor’s tenacious pursuit of truth and justice and a defence lawyer’s belief in his client, brought forth revelations that overturned one of the worst miscarriages of justice in Victorian legal history.
When journalist and lawyer, Julie Szego, set out to explore how a travesty of such magnitude could occur, she assumed she could tell the tale with journalistic detachment, delivering judgment from on high.
Instead, she found an intriguing and confronting story about the heartache of migration and the trials of integration, cultural taboos and gender wars, and the unseen prejudice that casts its spell over even the most enlightened minds. Farah Jama’s story made her question the wisdom of relying exclusively on DNA evidence as proof of guilt, and it challenged her long-held belief that the justice system was vacuum-sealed in reason.
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